Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (San Francisco)

Coordinates: 37°47′03″N 122°25′32″W / 37.7842°N 122.4255°W / 37.7842; -122.4255
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Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption
St Mary's Cathedral - San Francisco.jpg
Cathedral from the DePaul Campus of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory
Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (San Francisco) is located in California
Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (San Francisco)
Location in California
37°47′03″N 122°25′32″W / 37.7842°N 122.4255°W / 37.7842; -122.4255
Location1111 Gough St.
San Francisco, California, 94109
CountryUnited States
DenominationRoman Catholic
DedicationOctober 5, 1996
Architect(s)Pier Luigi Nervi, Pietro Belluschi, John Michael Lee, Paul A. Ryan and Angus McSweeney
StyleStructural Expressionist Modern
Capacity2,400 seats
DioceseArchdiocese of San Francisco
ArchbishopSalvatore Cordileone
RectorArturo Albano

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, also known locally as Saint Mary's Cathedral, is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. It is the mother church of the Catholic faithful in the California counties of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo and is the metropolitan cathedral for the Ecclesiastical province of San Francisco.

The cathedral is located in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. The present cathedral replaced one (1891–1962) of the same name. The original Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1853–1854 and still stands today. It is now known as Old Saint Mary's Cathedral.

Second cathedral[edit]

The 1891 cathedral

In 1883, Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan purchased the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and O'Farrell Street in Western Addition. Riordan broke ground in December 1885. On May 1, 1887, the archbishop placed the cornerstone. Archbishop Riordan dedicated the edifice to Saint Mary of the Assumption on January 11, 1891. The second cathedral served the Archdiocese of San Francisco for seventy-one years. During the episcopal terms of archbishops Riordan, Edward J. Hanna and John J. Mitty. Papal Secretary of State Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, (future Pope Pius XII) said Mass at the high altar in October 1936. On April 3, 1962, Joseph T. McGucken was installed as the fifth Archbishop of San Francisco in the cathedral on Van Ness Avenue. Five months later the landmark was destroyed by arson on the night of September 7, 1962.[1]

Rectors of the cathedral from 1891 to present[edit]

  • John J. Prendergast, vicar general, 1891–1913[2]
  • Charles Augustus Ramm, 1914–1948
  • Hugh Aloysius Donohoe, vicar general, 1948–1962
  • Thomas J. Bowe, 1962–1980
  • J. O’Shaughnessy, administrator, 1979–1981, rector 1981–1986
  • Patrick Joseph McGrath, 1986–1989
  • Milton T Walsh, 1989–1997
  • John O’Connor, 1997–2002
  • Angel Jose De Heredia, administrator, 2002–2003
  • John Talesfore, 2005–2015
  • William J. Justice, administrator, 2015
  • Arturo Albano, 2015–2022
  • Kevin Kennedy, 2022–present

New cathedral: 1971[edit]

The present cathedral was commissioned just as Vatican II was convening in Rome. Monsignor Thomas J. Bowe served as first rector of the new cathedral from 1962 to 1980. The cornerstone was laid on December 13, 1967, and the cathedral was completed three years later. On May 5, 1971, the cathedral was blessed and on October 5, 1996, was formally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the name of Saint Mary of the Assumption. The first Papal Mass was celebrated by Pope John Paul II in the cathedral in 1987.

It ran the private all-female Cathedral High School, in a building adjoined to the present-day cathedral itself. CHS merged with nearby all-male private Sacred Heart High School in 1987. St. Mary's Cathedral still has close ties to the resulting Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, which uses the cathedral as its principal church for masses and other special events, such as graduation. Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo also uses the cathedral to hold graduation.


The 1971 cathedral was designed by local architects John Michael Lee, Paul A. Ryan and Angus McSweeney,[3] collaborating with internationally known architects Pier Luigi Nervi and Pietro Belluschi, then the Dean of the School of Architecture at MIT. Precast concrete work, which is the entire top portion of the building, was constructed by Terracon and the DiRegolo Family of Hayward, CA.

Measuring 255 feet (78 m) square, the cathedral soars to 190 feet (58 m) high and is crowned with a 55 feet (17 m) golden cross.[4] Its saddle roof is composed of eight segments of hyperbolic paraboloids, in such a fashion that the bottom horizontal cross section of the roof is a square and the top cross section is a cross.

The design process was controversial. A preliminary design reminded one critic of "the effort of a camel and donkey to mate." After adding Belluschi and Nervi to the team, the situation improved, though the architects were then accused of plagiarizing the design of the St. Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo that was completed several years earlier. The modern design was not loved by San Francisco's Catholics who had previously worshipped in traditional churches.[5] The church is commonly known as Our Lady of Maytag, because the roof (designed to look like a conquistador's helmet) resembles a washing machine agitator.

The building was selected in 2007 by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects for a list of San Francisco's top 25 buildings.[6] In 2017, Architecture Digest named it one of the 10 most beautiful churches in the United States.[7]

Interior photos[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of St. Mary's Cathedral". Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  2. ^ Catholic Directory Archdiocese of San Francisco
  3. ^ "St. Mary's Cathedral". Archdiocese of San Francisco Web Page. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-05-12.
  4. ^ "Building of the month: Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco". The Twentieth Century Society. 2017-03-01.
  5. ^ "A Modern Cathedral Celebrates 45 Years". The New Fillmore. 2015-05-01.
  6. ^ "Gems of the city: A list of S.F.'s top 25". SFGate. 2007-04-17.
  7. ^ "Church of Mary of the Assumption named one of nation's prettiest churches". Curbed SF. 2017-02-07.

External links[edit]